Welcome December!

December tends to be such a busy month, filled with special events and excitement. Many of the activities offered, as well as the media, are directing us towards a material focus of the season, which may not represent the values and meaning we hope to convey to our children. We are constantly trying to fit everything into our schedule and please as many family members as possible.

This often causes us to be off of our typical routines relating to meals, bed times (for children as well as adults), screen time, and general stimuli. Having a change in routine can frequently affect how we feel, the amount of patience we have, and for children, whether or not they can “go with the flow,” or be flexible. Through careful management and planning, it is totally possible to create a holiday season filled with traditions, fun, deeper meaning, and lessened stress.

Building Traditions

Thinking about family values- Heather Posner, in her article, “Making the Holidays More Meaningful: How You Can Teach Values this December,” writes, “Make it a yearly habit to reflect on your values as a family. Have you ever asked yourself what you really stand for? What kinds of things make your family special?  How do you come together? Maybe you stand for fun and creativity, or making people happy and being outside. Every year, take a few minutes to write down your values as a family and allow even the littlest kids to get in on the act.”

For younger children, things like making gifts for others is a great way to learn to be thoughtful.  Drawings, paintings, hand-prints, jewelry or decorated jars for lanterns, are a few ideas that even the youngest child can help to make and wrap.

There are many websites and blogs that offer great ideas for kid-made, low cost gifts. If children are going to give purchased gifts to others, having them participate in finding gifts within a budget as well as wrapping the gifts will help them to be thoughtful about what those people mean to them.

An idea for helping children recognize the generosity of others is to help them write thank you notes. Whether the child can write for him/herself or dictate the thoughts to someone writing them down, this helps children realize that someone was thinking of them.

Promoting a Peaceful and Emotionally Healthy Holiday Season

Holidays tend to be filled with many extra activities and events, and so it can be difficult to stay close to typical family routines.  Some facets of these routines that keep our children and ourselves healthy (in body and mind) include; getting enough sleep, eating well, and having time to unwind.

Getting enough sleep – according to Hattie Harvey, PhD,NCSP in her article Encouraging Healthy Sleep Habits (Articles for Families on Behavior and Development/Encouraging Healthy Sleep Habits), “sleep is critical to children’s everyday functioning.  A good night’s sleep helps prepare children to attend to new experiences, positively engage with others, and build memory and attention skills.”

Harvey recommends that children 1-3 years old should sleep between 12-14 hours per day/night, those children 3-5 years of age should get 11-13 hours of sleep between night time and naps, and school age children (6-10 years old) need 10-11 hours per night. Very often during the rush of the holidays, children stay up later (we do too!) or must skip naps, and then their coping skills, patience, self-control, and attention spans function at a deficit. This can certainly put a damper on the merriment of the season.  

Eating a healthy diet is also a challenge during the business and festivities of the holidays. When we are rushing from one event to another, or attending parties, it can be a challenge to eat our normal diet.  Having treats and holiday goodies is definitely fun, but it is easy for children to fill up on these snacks and then not have room to eat healthy meal options.

According to Kathy Mitchell, MD, a practicing pediatrician at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates in Watertown, Mass, “there is room for treats, but it’s limited.” During the holidays it will help your children to eat a normal diet as much as possible, including proteins, eggs, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Eating meals in the most typical way possible for your child, at the everyday times established by your normal family routines, will help your children to enjoy the holiday season because they will feel their best and will be able to function their best too.

Last, but not least, it is difficult on a day-to-day basis to keep the family schedule free enough to allow for some quality together time, and much harder accomplishing this during the holidays. There are plays to attend and sports events, parties and shopping, community/church activities and festivities all calling us to be over-scheduled. All of these activities are intended to be fun and special, but too much of a good thing can cause stress for the child and for the family, and stress is not a positive influence on the brain.

If children, or their parents, are feeling frazzled due to a crazy schedule, not enough sleep, or grabbing food on the run, a great solution could be to put on the brakes and have some family time together. Families can enjoy some holiday time together by taking a walk, reading stories, playing games, doing crafts, cooking, or making holiday decorations. 

There can be so much anticipation by children and adults at this time of the year. This can make us feel on edge, but we as adults have the ability to slow things down a bit to help our children remember important family traditions, as well as all the love.